Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraScott Morrison has taken to likening Australia’s coming out of COVID to the Croods, a family in a children’s film, emerging from a cave. That’s when he is not urging us to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel.
Anthony Albanese’s riposte is that Scott is “not the light at the end [of the tunnel], he’s the gaslight on the hill”.
The country is probably unlucky it’s grappling with the pandemic’s third wave as a federal election looms early next year. That puts a thick patina of politics on this national crisis.
Trite comparisons, slogans, personal jibes abound, and political considerations inevitably feed into the government’s desperation to lift the pall COVID’s lockdowns and border closures are imposing on the economy and our lives.
Morrison sees the Doherty Institute modelling – with its 70% and 80% vaccination gateways – as the nation’s and his government’s way out. But, leaving aside any criticism of the modelling, there are two big problems for the PM on the road ahead.
The most talked about is the recalcitrant states. Despite his four-stage plan, Morrison can’t guarantee when the whole country might be open because that will be decided by the states.
The premiers of Western Australia and Queensland will open their borders or keep them closed according to their calculations of their states’ interests.
There’ll be some short term politics in their decisions, but that should be limited because both have recently had elections, which they won well. They don’t have to give nearly as much thought to their own political fortunes as Morrison does to his. Some observers think these Labor premiers will have an eye to what might help Anthony Albanese, but this is likely to be minor, considering the stakes.
The situation of states that are basically COVID free was summed up on Monday by Perth radio interviewer Oliver Peterson when he spoke to Morrison. “Can you see the conundrum here, … [at] 70 %, WA has to go backwards in putting restrictions like the two square metre rule, caps on venues and stadiums? Right now we’re living in a restriction-free life”.
Precisely. If, as things go forward to the required vaccination rates, Mark McGowan were to open his border as early as Morrison would like, he would be accepting that COVID would break out in WA. That would bring health and economic uncertainties he would have to manage.
That isn’t to argue WA should delay, or to maintain COVID zero can be maintained in a state forever. Rather, it’s to say that one could understand McGowan’s caution, when facing a decision that could involve a trade off between the interests of his population and Australia’s wider interests.
Recalcitrant states, however, might be the lesser of the problems facing Morrison in coming months. We know all about Doherty’s existing modelling on vaccine targets. Attention must now move to the next stage of modelling.
The institute said in its Monday’s statement: “The team of modellers from across Australia led by the Doherty Institute is now working through the implementation issues specific to the states and territories, specific populations and high risk settings.”
When we reach the vaccination targets, we are looking at what we might dub “pinch points”, and if they are not properly prepared for, the situation could be ugly.
We know when things are opened (even with some restrictions maintained and safeguards imposed) cases will increase and spread, and fast. While hospitalisations and deaths will be contained by most people having been vaccinated, there will still be severe pressure on the health system in particular.
The Australian Medical Association on Tuesday drew attention to this threat, issuing an ABC interview by its vice president Chris Moy.
Moy said: “Focusing on the Doherty numbers – great – but you’ve got to look at what’s really going to be the reality, which is the health system is going to have to bear this burden.
“Remember, next year we’re still going to be vaccinating, potentially with booster shots as well. So it’s a real perfect storm: while having to cope with what we look after now, plus COVID, plus delayed [health] care, plus having to vaccinate next year. It’s going to be a big year in health and not a smaller year,” Moy said.
“We’re a fairly long way from being able to be ready for a very large influx of infectious patients who have to be cared for, for a long period of time, and that planning needs to happen now.”
Morrison wants the country open and the economy humming by election time, with COVID off the front pages. He and Health Minister Greg Hunt are confident the hospital situation will be in hand. But, ahead of its start, they were confident about the vaccine program too.
If the “pinch point” of escalating cases – and don’t believe Morrison’s hope there wouldn’t be attention on case numbers anymore – and overloaded hospitals coincided with the approaching election, that could be a political as well as an actual nightmare.
Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneA Resolve poll for Nine newspapers, conducted August 17-21 from a sample of 1,607, gave the Coalition 40% of the primary vote (up two since August), Labor 32% (down three), the Greens 12% (steady), One Nation 2% (down two) and independents 10% (up three).
Resolve is not publishing a two party estimate, but analyst Kevin Bonham
estimated a 50-50 tie, a two-point gain for the Coalition since July. Given the continuing COVID lockdowns in NSW and Victoria, this poll is bad for Labor.
The last Newspoll in early August was 53-47 to Labor, and the last Morgan, in early to mid-August, was 54-46. Either there has been a shift back to the Coalition in the last week or so, or this poll is an outlier. There should be a Newspoll on Sunday night.
A plausible reason for a Coalition rebound is that the vaccination rollout pace has increased, particularly in NSW. In the UK, once there was some good news on vaccinations early this year, the Conservatives went from a near-tie to a high single digit lead that they have not yielded. The Coalition is also pushing for an end to the lockdowns once vaccination rates are above 70%.
Criticisms of Resolve poll
The Resolve poll can be criticised for only giving primary votes and not a two party estimate. While two party figures can be calculated from the primary votes by analysts, the media will focus on the primary votes. Australia uses preferential voting, not first past the post. Resolve should conform to our electoral system.
Another criticism is the very high vote for independents (10% in this poll). At the 2019 federal election, independents won 3.4% of the vote. With Resolve offering independent as an option in all seats, voters who are unsure who they will vote for are likely to park their votes with independents.
Other results from this poll
46% thought Scott Morrison’s performance in recent weeks was good and 46% poor. After rounding, his net rating was -1, unchanged since July. Anthony Albanese’s net rating dropped three points to -19. Morrison led Albanese by 46-23 as preferred PM (45-24 in July).
The Liberals and Morrison led Labor and Albanese by 44-19 on economic management (41-25 in July). On COVID, the Liberals led by 37-22 (37-25 previously). This is the biggest Liberal lead on the economy since May.
By 62-24, voters wanted political leaders to stick to a national cabinet deal to ease COVID restrictions once vaccinations reach 70% and 80% targets of all Australians aged over 16. By 54-27, voters did not think we would be able to completely suppress the virus again. 12% (down nine since July and down 17 since May) said they were unlikely to get vaccinated.
Essential and Morgan polls
In last week’s Essential poll, 8% (down three since early August) said they’d never get vaccinated, and a further 24% (down one) said they’d get vaccinated, but not straight away. By 75-10, voters supported mandatory vaccination for workers in occupations with high COVID transmission risks, such as hospitals and education.
The federal government had a 41-35 good rating for its response to COVID, up from 38-35 good in early August, but down from 58-18 in late May, before any lockdowns.
The NSW government’s response was rated good by 42%, down five from early August and 27 since early June. Despite the current lockdown, the Victorian government’s good rating rose two points to 56%. Queensland and WA have been rewarded for keeping COVID out, with Queensland’s good rating up six to 66% and WA’s up five to 87%.
A Morgan poll, conducted August 7-8 and 14-15 from a sample of over 2,700, gave Labor a 54-46 lead, a 0.5% gain for Labor since late July. Primary votes were 37.5% Coalition (up 0.5%), 37.5% Labor (up 0.5%), 12.5% Greens (steady) and 3.5% One Nation (up 0.5%).
Victorian Labor increases lead in Resolve poll
In a Victorian state Resolve poll for The Age, Labor had 40% of the primary vote (up three since June), the Coalition 35% (down one), the Greens 10% (up one) and independents 9% (down three). Bonham estimated a 56-44 Labor lead after preferences, a two-point gain for Labor.
This poll would have been conducted with the federal July and August Resolve polls from a sample of 1,106. Incumbent Daniel Andrews led Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien by 50-24 as preferred premier (49-23 in June).
Labor’s increased lead in Victoria comes despite strict lockdowns that have still failed to contain the current Delta outbreak of COVID. It appears voters will support lockdowns until we reach the 70% fully vaccinated target.
However, the 62-24 national support for easing restrictions once vaccination targets are met indicates the federal government is on a winner with this strategy.
Biden’s ratings slump after Afghanistan withdrawal
I wrote for The Poll Bludger on Monday that US President Joe Biden’s ratings have slumped after the Afghanistan withdrawal. In the FiveThirtyEight aggregate, his ratings are now 47.6% approve, 46.9% disapprove (net just +0.7%). Biden had a +10 net rating in late July and +6 before Afghanistan.
Also covered: Canadian PM Justin Trudeau calls an election for September 20, two years early. And the Social Democrats surge in Germany, ahead of the September 26 election.
As he recounted domestic life with Scott, the treasurer was inevitably asked whether he’d measured up the curtains.
Among the ministers, Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt have carried the frontline burdens during the pandemic. For Frydenberg – the biggest-spending federal treasurer in the nation’s history – the experience can be viewed as a test for future leadership.
Although there’ve been mistakes – JobKeeper had design flaws which led to serious waste – he has come through creditably in extraordinary circumstances.
Frydenberg, who is also deputy Liberal leader, has never hidden his ambition and is hungry for the top job. But he is also loyal. Morrison knows that, unlike prime ministerial predecessors Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder, even in the bad times. Morrison marked three years as PM this week, and there has been no white-anting.
There’s more than one path to the prime ministership for Frydenberg. If Morrison loses the election, Frydenberg would be favourite to become leader of the opposition. But that’s the start of a very rocky road; hard work and high hopes can be dashed, as Bill Shorten found.
An alternative path is to be well placed vis-a-vis your internal competitors and inherit the post when it becomes available, one way or another.
If the Coalition is re-elected next year, would Morrison serve a full term, or is it possible he might leave triumphant after a couple of years, not risking the gamble on a third election “miracle”? Frydenberg knows Morrison’s moving on in a smooth transition would be his best prospect.
The prime minister this week was in full campaign mode for the March or May election and we had a glimpse of the formidable fighter we saw in 2019.
In a week when the NSW government lost control of COVID, the state’s daily new cases rising above 1,000 and hospitals under severe strain, and with Victoria on the brink, Morrison made a dramatic pivot to focus on opening the country.
Embattled NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was firmly in step, making it clear she’s determined to move when the 70% vaccine target is reached (meanwhile announcing some minor easings).
It seemed incongruous that as the third wave deepened and with only a third of eligible people fully vaccinated, Morrison simply left the bad news behind and headed for the ground on which he wants to stand. In his Thursday news conference, for example, he began by hailing “another day of hope”, based on the latest vaccination numbers.
Morrison, backed by research, judges most voters have had enough of lockdowns and blocked internal travel.
A poll published by Nine this week showed 54% believed Australia could not completely suppress COVID, and more than six in ten favoured opening up once the target vaccination thresholds were reached. In the second year of the pandemic, public opinion appears to have swung from preoccupation with the health response to a strong desire to return to more freedom.
While Morrison pivots when in political trouble, Anthony Albanese this week looked to be lumbering. With the PM accusing the opposition leader of undermining the national cabinet’s exit plan, Albanese knew he had to get himself out of that corner. He stressed support for the plan, but his demeanour was that of a man on the back foot.
The defiant premiers of Queensland and Western Australia are in an easier short-term position. WA’s Mark McGowan, in particular, with his stratospheric popularity, can tell Morrison to go jump, as in effect he did this week. After the PM invoked “The Croods” film to say we must emerge from the cave, McGowan played heavily to West Australians’ parochialism and angst towards the east.
“This morning the prime minister made a comment implying Western Australians were like cave people from a recent kids’ movie. It was an odd thing to say,” McGowan wrote on Facebook. “I think everyone would rather just see the Commonwealth look beyond New South Wales and actually appreciate what life is like here in WA.
“We currently have no restrictions within our State, a great quality of life, and a remarkably strong economy, which is funding the relief efforts in other parts of the country.
“West Aussies just want decisions that consider the circumstances of all States and Territories, not just Sydney.”
Regardless of the national plan to which they agreed, McGowan and Annastacia Pałaszczuk have the constitutional and political authority to handle their states’ transitions as they see fit. But they can’t get away from the fact they’ll have to make the journey, relaxing border restrictions, at some stage.
As New Zealand is now finding, a zero-COVID position, however assiduously pursued, seems an impossible dream over the longer term.
Without the sharp motivators of big outbreaks, WA and Queensland have vaccination rates lower than the national average, and health systems that haven’t been stress-tested under maximum COVID pressure. WA, self-sheltered for so long, would be especially vulnerable if there were a big outbreak.
At the national level, one political unknown is what the public reaction will be in the difficult transition period ahead. Will sentiment change again when there are more hospitalisations and deaths as we reopen, albeit with some continuing safeguards?
With the length of the current extensive lockdowns unknown, it is not clear whether by election time we’ll have had, or have escaped, another recession. We know this September quarter will be negative but the December quarter could go either way.
Two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth (the economy shrinking) is taken in technical terms to be a recession. AMP economist Shane Oliver says there is a 45% chance of negative growth in the June-quarter figures, which will be released next Wednesday. If that happened a recession would be certain.
At the election the economy and fiscal policy will be central issues. If we are as “open” as the prime minister foreshadows, the government will need to have plans for when and how it would start fiscal repair.
For Morrison and Frydenberg, this will be another pivot point. Many will be watching carefully how much agility the treasurer can show.
Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraSpeaker Tony Smith – who has been battling to force better behaviour in the House of Representatives on MPs including Scott Morrison – has announced he will not contest the next election.
Smith, 54, has held the Victorian seat of Casey – which takes in outer eastern suburbs in Melbourne – since 2001. He’s been around Parliament House much longer, though, having worked previously for Peter Costello from 1990 to 2001.
He said in a Wednesday statement his decision not to re-contest had been taken “after a great deal of thought and consideration”.
“I love our parliament and serving the Australian people. I am honoured that the Liberal Party and the electors of Casey voted to give me this privilege for two decades.
“However, I believe now is a good time to give the Liberal Party and the people of Casey the opportunity for renewal.
“I also believe the time is now right for me to pursue other endeavours following the conclusion of this forty-sixth Parliament.”
Smith followed as speaker the highly partisan Bronwyn Bishop, after she was forced to quit the post in 2015 over misuse of entitlements.
From his start in the role, Smith has been highly regarded by both sides of politics for his even-handedness and fair rulings. He said at the beginning he would not attend party room meetings and noted he had friends in opposition ranks.
One of those lobbying for Smith in the ballot (among Liberal members of the House) for the nomination was Scott Morrison, who was social services minister.
Immediately on assuming the chair Smith said parliament should be a robust place, however “it needn’t be rude and it needn’t be loud.”
Recently, against the background of the apparently intractable loud and rude behaviour, he has made a toughly determined effort to impose greater discipline on an unruly house. This surprised colleagues and shocked (and probably angered) ministers who have felt the lash of his tongue.
In particular he has cracked down heavily to stop the government frontbenchers, including Morrison, flouting the standing orders, notably by giving answers that are irrelevant to the questions they are asked.
A few weeks ago Smith brought Morrison into line in a way that was highly embarrassing for the PM. After Smith insisted Morrison be relevant in answering, the PM replied. “I’m happy to do that, Mr Speaker.” To which Smith retorted, “I don’t care whether you’re happy or not. You need to return to the question.”
On the same day, Smith also dealt sharply with the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, and brutally with Health Minister Greg Hunt who was repeatedly refusing to sit down when told. “The minister for health can resume his seat, full stop. I’m not going to be ignored,” Smith said.
Subsequently he told parliament: “Obviously in the course of the last week I’ve enforced the standing orders vigorously. I intend to keep doing that.” He said the reason was “to get an improvement in parliamentary standards”.
Morrison said in a Wednesday statement: “Tony has been an outstanding Speaker, in the true Westminster tradition”.
He said Smith’s “intellect, temperament, dry wit, staying above the fray and respect for the Parliament as an institution, has earned him respect, far and wide.
“Many Speakers can get caught in the crossfire of parliamentary debate. Instead, his actions have elevated debate and demonstrated the great strength of parliamentary democracy.”
Manager of opposition business Tony Burke tweeted on Wednesday: “Tony Smith leaving will be a huge loss to the parliament. He’s one of the only speakers in history to have been nominated by the government and seconded by the opposition. He’s been consistent, principled, and most importantly fearless.”
At the last election Smith held Casey on a two-party vote of 54.6%-45.4%.
Smith said in his statement he had been first elected 20 years ago this November “and have had the honor of being re-elected on six occasions making me the longest serving Member for Casey”.
He said his announcement now gave the Liberal party time to choose the best candidate for the election.
If the Coalition is re-elected it will be looking for two new presiding officers. Senate president Scott Ryan, also from Victoria, announced some time ago he would not be standing for another parliamentary term.
In the meantime, in the remaining parliamentary weeks between now and the election, which is expected in March or May, Smith will continue his quest to improve behaviour.
Nader Habibi, Brandeis UniversityIran’s conservative rulers’ effort to orchestrate the outcome of the June 18 presidential election triggered a voter boycott – but the result may still bode well for ongoing negotiations over the lapsed 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran’s Interior Ministry on June 19 announced that the winner is Ebrahim Raisi, chief of Iran’s judiciary and close ally of the supreme leader. He was all but assured of victory after the candidates who could have posed a serious challenge to him – including three reformists – were disqualified and prevented from participating in the election.
But who is Ebrahim Raisi, and how will his presidency alter Iran’s domestic and foreign policies? As an economist and close observer of Iran, I believe we can start to answer these questions by exploring his past.
Raisi is a loyal regime insider with a long career in Iran’s judicial branch, which goes back more than four decades.
He was only 19 when the Islamic revolution deposed the shah in 1979. As a young Islamic activist, he caught the attention of several top revolutionary clerics, including Ali Khamenei, who became Iran’s supreme leader a decade later.
Named the general-prosecutor of Kataj – a small city near Tehran – at age 20, Raisi quickly rose to more prominent positions. In 1989, when Khamenei replaced Ruhollah Khomeini as supreme leader, Raisi was promoted to chief prosecutor-general of Tehran.
This promotion reflected the high level of trust that Khamenei had in him. While serving in these positions, Raisi also attended seminary and religious studies under Khamenei and other influential religious leaders.
Executing dissidents and fighting corruption
During the first decade of his career, Raisi convicted a large number of dissidents and political opponents of the Islamic regime and sentenced many of them to death.
Regime critics and his political opponents have condemned his direct role in these executions, particularly the large number of political prisoners who were executed in 1988.
From 1994 to 2004, Raisi served as head of Iran’s general inspector office, which is responsible for preventing abuse of power and corruption in government institutions. It was in this position that he developed a reputation as a crusader against government corruption. Even as he was appointed as the first deputy chief justice in 2004 and finally promoted to chief justice in March 2019, he continued his fight against corruption by prosecuting many government officials.
His critics have argued, however, that his fight against corruption has been highly politicized and selective. They claimed that he targeted individuals who were affiliated with his political rivals such as President Hassan Rouhani.
Raisi first ran for president in 2017 but was defeated by Iran’s current President Hassan Rouhani, who after two terms is ineligible to run again.
In this year’s election, Raisi was the favorite candidate of the conservative right wing of the Islamic ruling elite and also enjoys the support of Ayatollah Khamenei, who has absolute power over all branches of government. Khamenei also directly appoints half of the 12-member Council of Guardians, which oversees all political elections and has the power to disqualify candidates without any public explanation. Khamenei publicly endorsed and defended the disqualifications.
Likely return to the nuclear deal
One of the institutional weaknesses of Iran’s political system since the 1979 Islamic revolution is the potential for tension and disagreement between the elected presidents and the supreme leader.
That is, unlike in the U.S. system of government, the Iranian president’s powers are extremely limited. For example, a reformist president may want to engage more with the West or stay out of a foreign conflict, but the supreme leader could overrule or simply ignore him.
As a protege and close ally of the supreme leader, Raisi is expected to support Khamenei’s policies on both domestic and foreign policy – which means more coordination between the various branches of government. With the Parliament also dominated by Khamenei supporters, it also means that the conservatives will control all three branches of the government once again after eight years.
This harmony means Raisi will be a lot more effective as president because whatever policies he pursues will most likely be supported by the supreme leader.
And perhaps ironically, his victory could pave the way for a more compromising attitude on the side of Iran in the negotiations that are currently underway in Vienna for restoration of the 2015 nuclear agreement, which was derailed by former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018.
The reason for this unconventional prediction is that both reformist and conservative factions in Iran are fully aware that a new nuclear agreement, which could end the severe economic sanctions imposed on the country, is highly popular. The team that signs the agreement will receive credit for ending the economic hardship the country is currently enduring. For example, inflation is over 50%, exports have plunged due to the sanctions and over 60% of the population is now in poverty, up from 48% just two years ago.
With Raisi president, the conservatives and the supreme leader have greater incentives to reach an agreement with the United States for lifting the sanctions as they can no longer blame a reformist president for the economic hardships.
The success of this strategy, however, is far from guaranteed.
First, if Khamenei, Raisi and their hard-line supporters insist on maintaining Iran’s confrontational foreign policy, it seems unlikely to me that the economic sanctions against Iran will ease. Not all of them are tied directly to the nuclear deal, including sanctions against Raisi himself.
Second, the growing alienation and frustration of large segments of Iran’s population – especially after reformists were banned from running for president – may still lead to mass unrest and political instability.
Supreme Leader Raisi?
Raisi’s victory may have an even more significant impact on Iran’s politics in the long run because it might pave the way for him to become Iran’s next supreme leader.
Ayatollah Khamenei is in his 80s, and a succession to a new supreme leader is considered probable in the next four years. According to many regime insiders, Raisi became the most likely person to replace Khamenei by winning the presidential election.
If Raisi eventually becomes Iran’s supreme leader, he would have far more powers to shape all types of policies. Based on his background and values, he is likely to resist political and social reforms and try to gain legitimacy for the Islamic regime by focusing on economic development in a similar fashion to the authoritarian regimes in Asia, such as China, by focusing on economic growth while curtailing political and social freedoms.
Raisi – and eventually as the supreme leader – is unlikely to abandon Iran’s anti-Western foreign policy, but he has the potential to lower the tensions to a more manageable level in order to improve Iran’s economy.
In my view, he seems to have recognized that the continuation of current economic hardships poses the largest threat to the Islamic regime in the long run.
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Adrian Beaumont, The University of MelbourneThis week’s Newspoll, conducted May 13-16 from a sample of 1,506, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, unchanged from the last Newspoll published three weeks ago. Primary votes were 41% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (down two), 12% Greens (up two) and 2% One Nation (down one). Figures are from The Poll Bludger.
58% were satisfied with Scott Morrison’s performance (down one), and 38% were dissatisfied (up one), for a net approval of +20. Anthony Albanese’s net approval was down four points to -7, his worst ever net approval. Morrison led Albanese as better PM by 55-30 (56-30 three weeks ago).
Newspoll has asked three questions after every budget: whether the budget was good for the economy, good for you personally, and whether the opposition would have delivered a better budget. Results for this last question are yet to appear, and it would be disappointing if that question has been cancelled.
44% thought last Tuesday’s budget was good for the economy and 15% bad, for a net rating of +29. On personal finances, 19% thought it would be good and 19% bad, for a net zero rating. Voters have consistently been better disposed to budgets on the economy than the personal.
The Poll Bludger says this budget is the eighth best on personal finance and the sixth best on the economy since Newspoll started asking these questions, which I believe was in 1988. Analyst Kevin Bonham says this budget has the best net score on the economy since 2007’s +48. However, the Coalition under John Howard lost the 2007 election after that budget.
Most budgets have little impact on voting intentions, and this is confirmed by voting intentions remaining unchanged on two party preferred in this Newspoll. Exceptions were the very unpopular 1993 and 2014 budgets. After both those budgets, the government lost much support.
The drop in Labor’s support, and the rise for the Greens, is probably due to left-wing voters who are unhappy with Albanese. Morrison’s consistently big lead over Albanese as better PM likely encourages some voters to perceive Labor would do better if led by someone more left-wing than Albanese. I posted about the flaws in this logic in my last Newspoll report.
In an additional Newspoll question, 73% thought Australia’s borders should remain closed until at least mid-2022, or the pandemic is under control globally. Just 21% thought borders should open as soon as all Australians who want to be are vaccinated.
In last week’s Essential poll, taken before the budget, Morrison’s net approval surged to +26 from +17 in mid-April. With women, his net approval rose 17 points to +21; with men, it was up two points to +31. While there is still a gender gap, many women appear to have forgotten or forgiven the sexual misbehaviour in March.
Liberals win Tasmanian majority as sex-compromised Liberal wins, then resigns
At the May 1 Tasmanian election, the Liberals won 13 of the 25 lower house seats (steady since the 2018 election), Labor nine (down one), the Greens two (steady) and Independent Kristie Johnston won the last seat. Vote shares were 48.7% Liberal (down 1.5%), 28.2% Labor (down 4.5%), 12.4% Greens (up 2.1%) and 6.2% for independents.
In party terms, there were two electorates where the result appeared uncertain in my post-election article: Clark and Bass. With five seats per electorate, a quota is one-sixth of the vote, or 16.7%. In the Hare-Clark system, candidates compete against other candidates in the same party, as well as other parties’ candidates.
In Clark, there was some doubt on election night as to whether the Liberals would win a second seat. But former Labor MP Madeleine Ogilvie, who had sat as an independent in the last parliament, and joined the Liberals at this election, won the second Liberal seat in Clark.
Ogilvie was 342 votes or 0.03 quotas ahead of fellow Liberal Simon Behrakis at the second last count. At Behrakis’ exclusion, final standings were Ogilvie 0.95 quotas, Johnston 0.93 and Independent Sue Hickey 0.82. Ogilvie and Johnston were elected to the final two seats.
In Bass, Labor benefited from leakage of Premier Peter Gutwein’s surplus and preferences from other sources. Labor easily defeated the Greens and Liberals for the final seat for a three Liberal, two Labor result.
The day before the election, Liberal Braddon candidate Adam Brooks was accused of impersonating to enter a sexual relationship using a fake driver’s license. Tasmania still requires early voters to complete a declaration that they cannot vote on election day, so most votes were cast on election day.
Brooks was still elected after a close race with two other Liberals in Braddon. With the final two seats to be filled, Jaensch finished on 0.934 quotas, Brooks 0.931 and Ellis 0.904, with Ellis missing out. Brooks had been 0.046 quotas ahead of Ellis after Liberal exclusions and surpluses, with his lead reduced by sources outside the Liberals.
The Braddon result was finalised Thursday. On Friday, Brooks resigned his seat after Queensland police charged him with firearms offences. Brooks’ seat will definitely go to a Liberal on a countback (not a byelection), likely Ellis. The Liberals will be relieved at not requiring Brooks’ vote to maintain a majority.
In the upper house, the Liberals gained Windermere from a retiring conservative independent, while Labor held Derwent. In Windermere, the Liberals defeated Labor by 54.1-45.9, from primary votes of 37.8% Liberal, 27.0% Labor and 21.3% for an independent. In Derwent, Labor defeated the Liberals by 55.7-44.3, from primary votes of 49.1% Labor, 40.9% Liberal and 10.0% Animal Justice.
The Tasmanian upper house has 15 single-member electorates with two or three up for election every May for six-year terms. Current standings are five Labor, four Liberals, four left independents and two centre-right independents.
Poll gives Nationals 51-49 lead for Saturday’s Upper Hunter (NSW) byelection
A byelection will occur in the NSW Nationals-held state seat of Upper Hunter this Saturday. This seat has been Nationals-held since 1932, but at the 2019 NSW election, the Nationals had their lowest primary vote of 34.0%. Labor had 28.7%, the Shooters 22.0% and the Greens 4.8%.
Excluding exhausting preferences, the Nationals defeated Labor by 52.6-47.4, with 24.2% of total votes exhausting under NSW’s optional preferential system.
A YouGov poll for The Daily Telegraph gave the Nationals a 51-49 lead over Labor in Upper Hunter based on respondent preferences. Primary votes were 25% Nationals, 23% Labor, 16% Shooters, 11% One Nation, 6% Greens and 10% combined for two independents. The poll was conducted May 11-13 from a sample of just 400.
Presenter Karl Stefanovic noticed Morrison seemed out of sorts, despite the government having delivered the night before a benign budget that was well received and likely to be popular.
“It is a very big budget. Josh Frydenberg had a very big smile on his face this morning. I thought you might be happier this morning, PM. Everything OK?” Stefanovic asked.
Morrison said he was “fine”. He went on: “I’ve got to tell you, Karl, the reason is this.
“I know, look, budgets are big events and that’s all fine, but I just know the fight we’re in – and the fight we’re in, and me as prime minister I’m in, is to be protecting Australians at this incredibly difficult time.
“I am very cognisant of how big those challenges are. It is with me every second of every day.”
There are a few points to be made here.
First, the government is using the budget to talk up the current threat of the pandemic to an extent it hadn’t been recently.
Morrison, in particular, had previously been anxious to emphasise the return to as much normality as possible. Now it’s more about lurking dangers.
These provide a justification for the government’s mega spending in the budget. (“Did anyone miss out? Perhaps only the beekeepers of Australia,” quipped one cynical Liberal backbencher.)
The language also indicates Morrison wants to do what state and territory leaders have done – use the pandemic to pave the path to electoral victory.
The other point highlighted by the Today exchange is that Morrison was looking somewhat ragged.
This was accentuated by the contrast with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg who, on the face of it, would have been under the greater stress.
Frydenberg’s performances in the week of his third budget were smooth and, whatever nerves he felt, he appeared unfazed.
The week reinforced the impression he is in the box seat eventually to reach the prime ministership (assuming the Coalition lasts in government).
Pre-budget, he and wife Amie were out for the cameras on a Sunday charity run in Canberra. Post-budget, his staff rang around backbenchers to ask if they’d like a picture with the treasurer.
In question time, Morrison found old problems returning to irritate him. He was pressed on the two internal inquiries into who in his office knew or did what in relation to the Brittany Higgins matter, and he had to say neither was concluded (one had been on hold before this week while the police dealt with their investigation of her rape allegation). Whatever the results of these inquiries, Morrison needs to get them cleared away as soon as possible. They are “barnacles”.
Morrison has been travelling a lot recently and may be tired (although those around him say he’s energised by being on the road). Or he may not be used to sharing the limelight. Or the endless round of everything may be just taking its toll.
Then there’s the challenge of explaining this Labor-lite budget to the hardliners in the Liberal base and among the right-wing commentariat.
The budget has made the opposition’s already formidable task of carving out room for itself more difficult, but it is also proving a hard swallow for those rusted on to the Coalition’s old “debt and deficit” preoccupation.
Many of these critics will be reluctant to buy the proposition the big spending must continue because the pandemic is a constant threat, given they’ve thought the threat was exaggerated in the first place.
The government could attempt to deal with these critics by saying it will “snap back” into tackling debt and deficit as quickly as possible.
But facing an election soon, it doesn’t want to do this, for obvious reasons.
In the budget the timing of the next stage, fiscal consolidation, is imprecise.
The budget papers say: “Progress on the economic recovery will be reviewed at each Budget update. This phase of the Strategy will remain in place until the economic recovery is secure and the unemployment rate is back to pre-crisis levels or lower.”
While some commentary is focused on how the Coalition has done a dramatic U-turn from its old debt-and-deficit rhetoric, there’s an opportunity for Labor to run a major scare campaign claiming it’s not a U-turn at all – that the debt truck is just in the parking lot.
Remember, it can say, when Tony Abbott promised no cuts to health, education and even the ABC – and recall what happened. This time, so the argument runs, cuts and savings will be Coalition priorities again as soon as it has secured the votes.
Morrison and Frydenberg this week have been invoking John Howard’s advice, given to Frydenberg in the early days of the pandemic, that “in times of crisis there are no ideological constraints”.
The question is whether the Liberals have softened their ideology, or just put it in storage during the crisis.
While there can be no definite answer, Tim Colebatch, writing in Inside Story. makes a strong case that the Coalition “won’t dump its political tactic of branding itself as the ‘fiscally responsible’ party and Labor as the party standing for deficits. This [budget] is a short-term tack that will be reversed after the election.
“Of course no government promising $503 billion of deficits in five years can be called fiscally responsible, so it will make cuts then to reclaim the brand,” Colebatch says.
Morrison and Frydenberg are both pragmatists rather than ideologues. But opinions in the wider party are also relevant, as Malcolm Turnbull found on the climate issue.
Frydenberg has pledged there will not be “any sharp pivots towards ‘austerity’”.
Nevertheless, there must be a budgetary reset at some point. And whether a pivot is sharp or not, and what amounts to “austerity” depend in part on whether you are one of the losers.
Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraTreasurer Josh Frydenberg calls this a “pandemic budget” – one to sustain the economy in times that are still uncertain – but it also has a substantial element of an election budget.
That’s not to suggest Prime Minister Scott Morrison will rush to the polls this year. But given the election has to be held by May 21, 2022, this is likely to be the last budget of the cycle. Another could be squeezed in, as in 2019, but it would have to be brought forward from the normal time.
Last year the treasurer said budget repair and debt repayment – otherwise known as the hard and unpleasant decisions – wouldn’t be undertaken before unemployment was “comfortably” below 6%.
Now unemployment is 5.6% (the March figure) but Frydenberg has shifted the goal posts, so the emphasis remains on recovery, with more difficult reckonings a way off – beyond the election.
Given a grim COVID picture internationally and a long way to go with the vaccine program locally, that is sound – and also politically convenient.
In this budget, the government’s policy approach is firmly aligned with that of the Reserve Bank, with Frydenberg embracing the bank’s objective of pushing unemployment well below pre-pandemic levels, which means to a rate with a 4 in front of it.
Two central spending areas in the budget have been, in effect, imposed on the government.
It had to respond to the damning findings of the aged care royal commission. The fact most Australian COVID deaths occurred in aged care underlined how unfit for purpose the system is. Frydenberg told the ABC there will be more than $10 billion spending on aged care over the forward estimates.
The budget’s “women’s” focus — a sharp contrast to last year — has drivers that go beyond the urgent need to do more to combat violence against women, and other imperatives.
Morrison’s “women problem”, which exploded with the demonstrations following the high-profile allegations of rape, most obviously increased the attention on women in this budget, which will include a women’s statement with initiatives on health, safety, and economic security.
Also, Labor’s decision to make childcare one of its main policy pitches, promising a big spend, reinforced economic considerations pushing the government to produce its own childcare policy (which doesn’t start until July 2022).
Even in the middle of the pandemic last year, few would have thought that by now we’d still have no firm idea when our international borders will re-open.
Morrison is cautious about it, and judges that’s in line with the thinking of the Australians public at the moment. He can read those state electoral results as well as anyone — he knows people put health safety above all else.
“International borders will only open when it is safe to do so”, he said on Facebook at the weekend. “Australians are living like in few countries around the world today.”
On the other hand, the pressure for students to come, migration to resume and people to be allowed to travel must build sooner or later.
The budget’s assumptions will put the reopening in 2022, Frydenberg told the ABC at the weekend.
Economist Saul Eslake says while keeping the country closed to the outside world is obviously not sustainable in the long run, it has, in a perverse way, some short run plusses for the government’s economic objectives.
“It’s very easy to get unemployment down when the border is closed. You only need to create 5000 new jobs a month to prevent unemployment rising.
“Previously [with migrants coming] you needed 16,000 new jobs a month. Currently we’re creating 60,000 a month,” Eslake says.
Migrants stimulate growth. But so does having Australians unable to travel overseas, Eslake says. They can only spend domestically – or save – the $55 billion they would normally be spending abroad. They appear to be spending quite a deal of it on things like home equipment, furnishings, renovations, cars, and even clothing.
While fiscal repair is formally delayed, the budget will show it is gradually, to a degree, repairing itself.
The quicker-than-expected bounce back of the labour market, which reduces welfare costs and boosts tax revenue, and the similar rebound in corporate profits, help the bottom line. Frydenberg says that, despite JobKeeper coming to an end, 105,000 people came off income support in April. High iron ore prices are also a godsend to revenue.
Chris Richardson, from Deloitte Access Economics, has forecast a deficit for this financial year of about $167 billion, compared with the December budget update figure of $198 billion. For 2021-22 , the Deloitte forecast is a deficit of about $87 billion compared with the update’s forecast of $108 billion.
Still, a balanced budget will be some years off, Richardson says.
He gives four reasons: substantial structural spending on aged care, mental health, childcare, disability and the like; low wage and price inflation (inflation helps budgets); missing migrants; and interest payments on debt (helped by low interest rates but still significant).
On what we know, the budget will be safe rather than adventurous. And while budgets can always unexpectedly trip over their own feet, and inevitably have plenty of critics, this will be the sort of benign one that doesn’t go out of its way to hurt or offend voters.